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Denali Highway Expedition

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Denali Highway, Cantwell, AK, USA 6 DAYS
SUN 26 MAR 2023 - FRI 31 MAR (UTC-09:00)

Overview

Mix winter camping with luxurious lodge accommodations on this 6 day, all-inclusive, non-technical trip along one of America’s most remote and beautiful thoroughfares -- the Denali Highway. Connecting Denali National Park with the wilderness of the Wrangell St. Elias Mountains, the Denali Highway is closed in winter, snowed in and abandoned to all but the hardiest of winter travelers -- dogs! The route parallels the majestic Alaska Range — home to North America’s largest mountain, Denali, and its formidable sister peaks, Mt. Deborah and Mt. Hayes. In the afternoon, winter alpenglow turns the mountains into pearly pink glowing gems — a sight to remember. Wildlife is abundant on this trip — moose, fox, caribou, and ptarmigan are most often spotted. Wolf packs range freely. Follow their tracks on a trip that takes us across a mountain plateau where caribou dot the landscape and mountains dominate every horizon. This trip includes cold weather gear, transportation, accommodations, meals, and mushing lessons. 

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Difficulty

Easy to moderate because the trail is relatively flat, with gradual ascents and descents, but includes full days of mushing with longer than average daily mileages (~25 miles). On hills you will need to help the dogs by pushing the sled uphill and be able to balance adequately to manage the sled brake on the descent. This six day trip is non technical and includes a full rest day at Clearwater Mountain Lodge. 

No previous mushing experience is required. We will teach you everything you need to know to feel comfortable and equipped for your days on the trail. ​That being said, dog mushing is a physical activity...from harnessing dogs to standing on the sled all day, you will need to be reasonably able-bodied in order to fully enjoy this experience. 

In order to safely enjoy this trip you must be able to:

✔️ Lift 50 lbs.

✔️ Endure hard falls onto ice or hard-packed snow.

✔️ Get dragged while holding onto sled handlebars (hard on shoulders).

✔️ You must be able to squat to go to the bathroom outside. 

✔️ You must be able to balance on one foot for a minimum of 5-10 seconds.

✔️ You must be able to climb stairs quickly and easily. 

✔️ You must be able to jump up from a prone position on the ground and in deep snow off-piste (i.e. a snow burpee)

✔️ Be capable of walking or hiking on steep and uneven terrain for up to 4 hours.

✔️ Be prepared to wrangle strong sled dogs (hard on wrists, hands, and shoulders).  

✔️ Be prepared to be exposed to cold, wet, windy and otherwise adverse weather conditions sometimes found in higher latitudes. 


If you are over the age of 65, we require a medical clearance from your doctor. (Click here to see our medical form.)

You do not need previous experience with cold-weather climates, but you will need to equip yourself with a proper set of winter base layers in order to ensure your comfort and safety. Even though it is spring in Alaska, weather and temperatures can still be harsh and unpredictable. We will provide you with a list of suggested & required gear -- your comfort is our utmost concern!  Check out our packing list here.

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Remote Camping and Wilderness Lodge Accommodations

During this trip you get to stay cozy and warm with various local accommodations:

  • A shared hotel room on the orientation night (2 people per room, limited private room upgrades available, first come first serve)
  • Two nights shared accommodations at a remote camp.
  • Two nights at a beautiful wilderness lodge located along the route (1 person per room, unless requested otherwise).
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When is the best time to see the aurora?

Anytime it is dark. Seriously! The northern lights can be viewed in the Interior every month from August through April (when it is dark enough to see stars) even at Kp0.* That being said, your chance of seeing the lights increases when the skies are clear, meaning little to no clouds. August through April are the months of the year the sky is dark enough to see stars and aurora. March, followed by April & February, are historically the months with the lowest precipitation in the Interior, meaning clear skies and excellent chances of spotting the aurora. The northern lights are caused by charged particles from the sun (solar wind) hitting the Earth’s magnetosphere. Around the equinoxes (fall and spring), the Earth’s axis is side-on to the sun, which happens to sync with the magnetic field of the solar wind. That means that during the equinoxes in March and September, charged particles are more likely to be accelerated down the field lines of Earth’s magnetosphere, causing the northern lights.** 

​*Kp is used to measure aurora strength. 

**There is no guarantee we will see the northern lights. While regularly observed in the North, they are still an unpredictable natural phenomenon highly dependent on
weather and cloud cover. We can guarantee: good food, tasty snacks, amazing scenery, comfortable accommodations and lots of time with our amazing huskies!

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Will I drive my own dog team?

Yes. You will drive and be responsible for your own small team of 4-6 dogs. On our first day on the trail, your professional dog sledding guide will introduce you to your team and give you a short lesson on how to drive the sled. You will learn how to harness a sled dog, and how to slow and stop your team. Your guide drives their own team just ahead of you, keeping an eye on the dogs, the trail, and your progress. You will drive a dog sled all five days.

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The Denali Highway

"The Denali Highway stretches 135 miles from Paxson to Cantwell, connecting the Richardson and Parks highways. Before the Parks Highway was completed in the early 1970s, the Denali Highway was the only road access to Denali National Park...The Denali Highway is certainly one of the most spectacular drives in the world. Much of the route lies above timberline, so the vistas go on forever. The mountains and glaciers of the Alaska Range form a majestic backdrop, with miles of rolling tundra punctuated by shallow lakes in between."

Click here for a brochure detailing scenic viewpoints on the Denali Highway.

--Alaska.org

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Arctic Oven Accommodations

Your accommodations for the second and last evening of the trip is a 12 x 18 heated Alaskan tent called an "Arctic Oven." The Arctic Oven is heated by a small stove, lit with twinkle lights, and has ample room for hanging gear and stretching your legs. You can even stand up inside! This is Alaskan "glamping" -- a truly comfortable warm winter camping experience. Cots, sleeping pads, and cold weather sleeping bags are provided. Outhouse bathroom facilities on site.

 

 

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Trip Guide

Your dog sledding guide for this trip is Lisbet Norris. Lisbet is the company owner and lead guide at Arctic Dog Adventure Co. Originally from Willow, Alaska, Lisbet grew up in a dog-mushing family. She is a three-time finisher of the Iditarod, the longest sled dog race in the world. Lisbet has two decades of experience guiding dog sled tours and expeditions. She is known for her leadership qualities under adverse circumstances and through sound preparation and experience, she makes the most unique and challenging adventures possible for her clients! Lisbet has a strong love for the North. A self-taught naturalist, she feels at home in the boreal forest of Interior Alaska and loves sharing the northern landscape with others. Lisbet holds a degree in Northern Studies and History from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. 

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DAY 1: MEET & GREET

We will pick you up from your Fairbanks accommodations at 9 a.m. to take you to Arctic Dog Adventure Co., where you will meet your guides and your new teammates, the dogs. We will go over gear, have a brief mushing lesson, and pack our bags and the trucks for departure. Lunch will be provided in between preparations. In the late afternoon, we will load gear and dogs into the truck and drive to our starting point of Cantwell, AK. We will finish off the evening with a relaxing dinner together at Backwoods Lodge.

  • Meals: Lunch and Dinner 
  • Accommodations: Shared accommodations 
  • Milage: 5 miles.

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DAY 2: TO THE MOUNTAINS

After dropping dogs in the morning, we will drive the short distance to the trailhead. We will unload our sleds, don our parkas, hook up our energetic dogs and be on the trail by noon. Our goal for the day is to mush from Cantwell to a secluded basecamp along the Brushkana River (25 miles). The trail follows the Nenana River, gradually climbing up through the tundra and spruce forest.

The trail is hilly, plunging down into tight creek canyons before climbing back out to sweeping tundra views of the river and the mountains. The Western Alaska Range peeks behind the front range, and the vast Susitna valley unfolds before us as we draw closer to Clearwater Mountain, perched at the top of the river. Moose are often spotted browsing the willows that line the roadbed. We follow big glacially formed eskers before dropping down to camp at the banks of the Brushkana River.

Our basecamp is comfortably equipped with a wood stove, cots, cold weather sleeping bags with outdoor restrooms provided by the campsite.

  • Meals: Breakfast at lodge, Picnic on trail, Dinner at camp
  • Accommodations: Winter ”glamping” at camp. Outhouses available.
  • Mileage: 22 miles

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DAY 3: CLEARWATER MOUNTAINS

The Western Alaska Range peeks behind the front range, and the vast Susitna valley unfolds before us as we draw closer to Clearwater Mountain, perched at the top of the river. Today we mush from the Brushkana River to Clearwater Mountain Lodge (25 miles). The road hugs the base of the mountains, climbing through scrub brush, along eskers and through stunted alpine birch toward the lodge. Located smack dab in the middle of the Alaska Range, the restored historic lodge is beautiful and cozy, with stunning views of Clearwater Mountain and delicious home-cooked meals. Clearwater Lodge is a family run full-service lodge with hot showers and comfortable beds. We are always spoiled when we stay here! Often, if the night is clear, northern lights dance above the mountains to the north. Clearwater offers a self serve hot drink station for those up late watching for the lights.

  • Meals: Breakfast at camp, lunch on the trail, dinner at the lodge
  • Accommodations: Shared room at Mountain Lodge (Private Room Upgrade available)
  • Milage: 25 miles.

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DAY 4: REST DAY

Today is a day for the dogs and ourselves to rest. If we are lucky, lodge owner Colleen will have fresh baked scones for us. Soak up the views with a hot cup of coffee by the large sitting room windows. Snuggle up by the fire with a book in the lodge’s living room. Don your boots and parka to visit with the sled dogs or stretch your legs with a stroll around the property. Use the lodge’s internet to update friends and family on your journey. The day is yours to enjoy. Meals are taken family style in the dining room.

  • Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner at Lodge
  • Accommodations: Shared Room at Lodge (Private Room Upgrade available)
  • Milage: 0

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DAY 5: BIG VIEWS

Enjoy a hearty breakfast and coffee in front of the woodstove before heading outside to hook the dogs up for the return journey to Brushkana River. Soak in your last glimpse of the beautiful upper plateau, but no worries, the return trail is also rich in big mountain views!

The trail sweeps out over the confluence of the Susitna & Nenana Rivers, peering down the Nenana River valley toward Denali National Park. The cut that is the road sneaks along the hillside in the far distance, almost impossible to spot in the midst of the wilderness. We will pass through forest and tundra, our eyes scanning the mountains and surrounding alpine for wildlife. Hold tight to your handlebars — the dogs often surge forward when they catch the scent of ptarmigan, which nestle in abundance along the trail.

We will arrive at camp in the evening, get the woodstove fired up and enjoy one last night out in the Alaskan wilderness.

  • Meals: Breakfast at Lodge. Lunch on the trail. Dinner at camp.
  • Accommodations: Shared accommodations at base camp.
  • Mileage: 25

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DAY 6: SUNSET ON THE TRAIL

Early morning breakfast at camp. Watch the sun rise behind the mountains as we hook up the dogs for our final run along the Denali Highway. We will have one last outdoor lunch, reflecting on the past few days with the dogs in this incredible region.

Depending on trail conditions and our pace, the return trail may be framed by mountains lit in neon pink alpenglow, arriving to the trailhead in the glow of a Denali sunset. We will sort gear at the trailhead, swing by the Cantwell Lodge for take out, then drive back to Fairbanks to deliver you to your evening accommodations. If we are lucky, shimmering aurora will wave over the northern horizon on our journey back to Fairbanks.

  • Meals: Breakfast at camp. Lunch on the trail. Dinner at Cantwell Lodge
  • Accommodations: You will need to arrange your own accommodations for this night
  • Mileage: 22 

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Location
Denali Highway, Cantwell, AK, USA
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